I was listening to Kelly Clarkson crooning her popular song “Stronger” and thought about all the research that’s been done with trauma survivors. It turns out difficult times can make us stronger. Tough life events affect everyone. It is normal to feel symptoms of depression and anxiety after a particularly stressful event. It is also possible to use the traumatic event as an opportunity for growth. We know that some people develop PTSD after trauma. What you might not realize is that most people bounce back after a while and return to feeling pretty normal. Some people end up stronger and better off a year later than they were before the stressful event. So, how do we turn a traumatic experience into an opportunity for growth?
1. Realize intense feelings are normal. The first thing to do is cut yourself some slack. It’s totally normal to feel intense feelings of sadness, intrusive thoughts, and anxiety for a while. Give yourself some time to feel all those feelings.
2. Talk about it with supportive people. It’s helpful to surround yourself with supportive people and talk about your experience. Tell the story of your experience. Dr. Martin Seligman, father of Positive Psychology, and author or “Flourish”, calls this “creating a trauma narrative”. This is your chance to make sense of the experience in ways that promote growth. Consider both your vulnerability and your strength; your grief and gratitude. Think about the ways you utilized your personal strengths, relationships improved, and your spirituality was strengthened.
3. Use the experience as an opportunity for growth. Notice increased appreciation for your life and relationships and the opportunities that are now open to you. Recognize that experiencing stressful life events gives us the opportunity to developed deeper compassion and wisdom.